“9 The coming of the lawless one is according to THE WORKING OF SATAN, (IS) with all POWER, signs, and LYING WONDERS,
10 AND with all UNRIGHTEOUS DECEPTION among those who perish, because THEY DID NOT RECEIVE THE LOVE OF THE TRUTH, that they might be saved.
11 And FOR THIS REASON GOD WILL SEND THEM STRONG DELUSION, (LITERALLY: AN ACTIVITY OF ERROR AND DECEPTION) THAT THEY SHOULD (ACTIVELY) BELIEVE THE LIE,
12 that they all may be condemned who DID NOT BELIEVE THE TRUTH but had PLEASURE IN UNRIGHTEOUSNESS!” (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12)
Sometimes we can be so enamored by the SHINEY object in a text that we miss the larger, the deeper, and more salient meaning and purpose of the text itself. When we have read 2 THESSALONIANS 2, 99.9% of our attention goes to “THE LAWLESS ONE” or the anti-Christ. We must guard ourselves from letting our carnal fascination with an historical reference to the anti-Christ to keep us from paying attention to the Kingdom principles that are at work all throughout the rest of these four verses.
There are critical truths about how God works that we must pay attention to here:
a.) truths that can give us insight into what we (and others are) experiencing in our own worlds right now;
b.) and truths that will unlock God’s grace to know how to operate within the dynamics that are spoken of here.
This pericope is a treasure chest of advanced technical “equipment” that can help us discern the way of the Lord in a day of great deception. Put another way: there are universal principles that Paul is writing about that are lodged in this text that are meant to be applied in our own world – regardless of whether the anti-Christ is alive and at work right now, or not.
What follows is an attempt to extricate 8 universal truths from this text – 8 truths that can be applied to the world that we’re living in right now:
1. (v.9) Paul references THE (general) WAY THAT SATAN WORKS. He notes that satan works with supernatural power, signs that direct hearts into false, destructive paths, and lying wonders that captivate the heart and fill the mind with wonder.
2. The WORKING OF SATAN is intended to lead the human soul into UNRIGHTEOUS DECEPTION; a condition where we live in a way that’s contrary to the King… but we don’t know it. (That’s why he calls it “deception”.) We live from day to day without recognizing that our ways are out of sync with the ways of Jesus.
3. This condition is common to every human soul; from the time of Adam to today. This condition comes upon those who DO NOT RECEIVE THE TRUTH OF GOD WITH LOVE and passionate hunger and appreciation for more. They either did not receive the truth about God at all, OR they did not receive the truth of God with a spirit that compelled them to yearn for more of God; more of HIs truth; more of His ways. The lack of yearning is the symptom – the “tip-off” that something in me is out-of-whack with how God designed me to live. (In our unfallen, created state, we, His creation, would “naturally” hunger for more and more of God, the way a newborn child craves her mother – right??)
This lack of yearning for THE TRUTH OF/ABOUT GOD could be within an individual for several reasons. Here are three that are common to today:
a.) We believe just enough Bible and theology to get us saved; and we’re content with the simplified essence of the formula of salvation. When others press us for more of God, we resist going on the journey because we’re content to believe the fundamentals of faith in Jesus Christ. “Jesus died on the cross for my sins. I believe He was raised from the dead. I’m good. This talk about “more” makes me suspect that the basics of our faith in Jesus Christ aren’t sufficient to save us.”
b.) We’ve made following Jesus about how it benefits me and my life. We mistakenly turn the things of God into principles and governing ordinances that tell us how to live in this world the best we can – getting all the blessings we can, while maximizing all of the opportunities that life brings our way.
c.) Or a lack of love for the truth of God may be due to the fact that our heart is filled with a love for something else; we’re passionate about justice issues, harmony with others, the well-being of our family and close friends, and/or politics and worldly amusements and accomplishments.
We must look at these three categories and realize that each of these mind-sets are what Paul was describing as “UNRIGHTEOUS DECEPTION” – meaning, they are ways that people live that are contrary to the way that Christ would have us live. We must not only recognize these mind-sets as “UNRIGHTEOUS”, we must examine ourselves to see how these ways exist within us. Because the fact of the matter is, UNRIGHTEOUS DECEPTION is meant to lead us to UNRIGHTEOUS destruction. Living disconnected from a LOVE OF THE TRUTH ABOUT GOD places our soul in peril.
4. Here is where Paul taps into the deep and mysterious way of God and reveals how contrary His ways are to our own. It is precisely because our soul is in peril that God does something that seems quite contrary to our logical and very much fallen way of thinking. When we’re entangled in UNRIGHTEOUS DECEPTION that threatens to destroy us, the Lord SENDS US STRONG DELUSION. The greek phrase literally means: He gives us something that will engage us into actively pursuing error and deception; what is false and – this is important – what will produce death and not life in our lives, our relationships and our world.
The question that occurs to the natural mind is, “why would God do this? Why would He give us something that He knows is false and potentially destructive to our eternal soul?”
If we’re playing honest with this text this is an unavoidable question we must confront head-on. We can’t make nice with the words – because the words are in-fact “troubling”. We need to let these words “trouble” us. We need to let them sit like soap cleanser in the bottom of a crusty frying pan; steadily softening our way of thinking that’s been “baked on” by the world, so we can authentically begin to think as God thinks.
This is the place where we “inquire of the Lord” (Psalm 27:4). This is where we let the “contrary” way of the Lord “wash us with the water of His Word” (Ephesians 5:27). When He declared, “My ways are not your ways” (Isaiah 55:8), THIS is what He meant. It requires a mind-set that will take up His challenge to “go and learn what this means” (Matthew 9:13) to press into this (2 Thessalonians 2) text (and others) and perceive things from the Lord’s perspective.
But when we do, He unlocks the treasures of hidden grace to live in a way “that glorifies the name of our Lord Jesus Christ within us” (2 Thessalonians 1:12).
“FOR THIS REASON God will send them strong delusion…”
5. Why would God send anyone a “delusion”? The direct answer comes from the previous verse: “Because they did not receive the love of the truth.” This requires some breakdown.
a.) Who is “THEY”? For our purposes, it’s all those who are putting themselves at risk of being entrapped by deceitful and lawless unrighteousness. Paul is saying, the ones who have put themselves at risk are in need of urgent intervention from God.
b.) The phrase “did not receive the love of the truth” tells us there is a history that’s gone on here. The “they” have already been spurning God’s “truth”. God has been speaking “truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) and it has not been received, nor cherished. The implication is that the truth has been rebuffed.
c.) “Truth” here isn’t just any truth. Paul isn’t speaking about mere facts about current events. He’s speaking about the truth about the King and the way the King operates in His Kingdom. Our fancy religious word for that is called “righteousness”. Righteousness literally from the greek source means, “the right order of the King”. The truth that has been spurned and rejected by “THEY” is the truth about the character of Jesus and the values by which He operates, and calls us to operate in our world.
d.) In one short sentence Paul is saying, “The Lord has been telling these people about how He operates in the world, and they neither agree with nor appreciate these operational values. The Kingdom values aren’t prized. Values like meekness, humility, mercy-giving, loving your enemies, cross-bearing, mutual honor and accountability etc. have been exchanged for brute force, pride, condemnation and malice, revenge, self-seeking, sowing dishonor and perpetual alienation and discord.” (Gotta be real here folks. This is the set of anti-beatitudes.)
We’ve also got to acknowledge that wherever we dispute the wisdom of the former list and embrace the latter list, we’re putting our souls at risk of being enticed by the “deceptions of unrighteousness” and “the working of satan”.
6. Now we get back to verse 11: “FOR THIS REASON”. What is the reason? “BECAUSE” in spite of the Lord’s repeated attempts to disclose the wisdom of His ways, these ones still have no love for the truth about how Jesus wants us to operate in our world.
7. What does the Lord do? How does He reach the ones who have been dismissing His calls of love and truth and wisdom? He does what too many good parents have had to do to wayward children who refuse to respond to their parent’s good, life-giving love. He gives them over to the evil that they want to embrace so that they feel the natural consequences (even the world operates according to a natural order – ie. from order to disorder) of their lack of love for God’s truth.
This is the same strategy that Paul talks about in Romans 1 where he says three times, “God gave them over” (Romans 1:24, 26 & 28) to the forces of unrighteousness.
The thought is, “They haven’t responded positively to the truth. Let’s let them experience some of the destructive consequences of unrighteousness, with the hope that they “turn from their evil ways”.
This is the tact the Lord described through the prophet Ezekiel: “10 “Therefore you, O son of man, say to the house of Israel: ‘Thus you say, “If our transgressions and our sins lie upon us, and we pine away in them, how can we then live?” ’ 11 Say to them: ‘As I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?’” (Ezekiel 33:10-11)
In essence the Lord is saying, “You have not let Me in my goodness be your Tutor into righteousness, I’ll let you feel the bad affects of having unrighteousness as your tutor.” As we mentioned above, the greek phrase for “SEND THEM A STRONG DELUSION” is an active phrase within an active phrase. He’s saying we will not only experience the terrible natural consequences of unrighteousness, but we will also experience the terrible tyranny of being led by unrighteousness; the brutality; the fear; the threats; the loss of freedom; the coercion etc. that comes whenever we have “sin as our master”. (Genesis 4:7).
This tact doesn’t change the Lord’s attitude toward the unrighteous individuals one bit. He is still the God Who “stretches out His hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good.” (Isaiah 65:2)
Again, the Lord declares through Ezekiel: “When I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ if he turns from his sin and does what is lawful and right, 15 if the wicked restores the pledge, gives back what he has stolen, and walks in the statutes of life without committing iniquity, he shall surely live; he shall not die. 16 None of his sins which he has committed shall be remembered against him; he has done what is lawful and right; he shall surely live.” (Ezekiel 33:14-16)
What’s more, they won’t be conscious of the fact that they’re being tutored by evil. They’ll believe the lie. They’ll only know that they’re being filled with desire to act in a certain way. The lie will actually spur them on with zeal, like it did with Jesus’ disciple, Simon, who was once a “zealot”. The “being filled with zeal” is the tip-off. Paul understood this zeal; this inner-compulsion and described it this way in Romans 7:20 “Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.” And he recognizes that this power of sin “is leading him to death.” “For sin… deceived me, and by it killed me.” (Romans 7:11)
Paul is saying “I was deceived. I didn’t see that sin was leading me to death. I didn’t see how terrible my condition was. Under the power of sin, I was actually thinking that I was heading toward life.”
And in this state, as He did in Paul, the Lord yearns for the deceived to feel the heat and even the terror of being helpless upon the conveyor-belt of sin and cry out, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24)
8. In v. 12 Paul again reminds us that condemnation, or the awareness of the state of condemnation, ultimately happens to all those who “do not believe the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:12). Our prayer for ourselves and those we love is, “Father show us our condemned state early, so we might cry out to You for mercy and grace and forgiveness.” This is the blessed place of experiencing “the fear of the Lord” in a way that propels us into repentance and submission to Him and His ways.
9. (The Bonus Point)
Finally, Paul identifies a key symptom that can serve as a diagnostic for our soul – if we’ll let the Holy Spirit bring it to us in this way. He concludes this topic by saying: “There is a PLEASURE IN UNRIGHTEOUSNESS within those who are in danger here.” The statement is meant to lead us to the question, “Is this pleasure in me?” Do I find cursing my enemies, exalting my self in pride, malice, defensiveness, unforgiveness, bitterness, hatred, contention, violence and lust for more to be “pleasurable”? And the question, if sincerely applied to ourselves should lead us to the cry for mercy and repentance. This is where our God Who loves mercy (Psalm 86:15) meets us. He is the God Who even saves those who are caught up in a great delusion and are falling into the pit of destruction. He is our HighPriest Who “saves to the uttermost”. (Hebrews 7:25) He’ll save us from the deepest delusion, the deepest despair and the deepest “working of satan”.
There are two more general points to be made about this text. Two general observations that can help us recognize our personal need to have these truths applied to our lives.
1. There are six references to deceit in these four verses. Six! We don’t need to wait until the anti-Christ comes to understand that the ways of the “ruler of this world” (John 12:21) are fraught with falsehood. And he is at work on the earth today working his network of lies in thousands of different ways.
One of the chief indicators that satan is manipulating a movement is when those within the movement are working hard to redefine truth to the masses – through rallies, alternative news sources, fear-based propaganda… Wherever we find an atmosphere that’s thick with lies being reshaped and spun; wherever we find redactions in historical narratives; wherever people become obsessed with conspiracy; fake news; alternative facts; hidden operatives (ala “deep state”); redefining terms (ala. “that depends on what your definition of “is” is.”) false allies (ala RINOs); shame those who listen to differing opinions (ala. FOX news and fake news), diverge from the storyline and/or question the values that the movement is enthroning; we can be certain that we’ve entered the lair of the liar. (John 8:44) Every bit of his fading kingdom is built on deception and redefining truth. (2 Corinthians 11:14; Genesis 3:4-5).
2. There are also three references to “righteousness”, “unrighteousness” and “lawlessness” in these four verses. Paul is telling us here that the six references to deceit in these same verse are bent on deceiving us about the nature of lawlessness and righteousness.
As I’ve observed hundreds of times over the last several years, the greek word for “righteousness” is “dikaiosune”. It literally means “the right order of the king” – or “the way the king thinks and acts”. When we see words like lawlessness, righteousness and unrighteousness in a section of scripture we can be sure that the topic of discussion is “how would Jesus think and behave in this context? To embrace righteousness is to embrace the way of Jesus’ heart.
Here in this text, Paul us telling us that the way of the enemy is not only to lie, but it is to lie specifically about the ways of righteousness. At the end of His Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7 Jesus expressly describes the way of lawlessness as the way that does not align with what He’s just preached in (Matthew 5 -7). Simply put, the way of righteousness (the way of Jesus’ heart) is to be found in the Sermon on the Mount. The enemy is dead set on perverting our understanding and application of the Sermon on the Mount. He will lie and tell us that there are times when it’s better to NOT live by the Sermon on the Mount. And he will lie and tell us that some people have a special designation to operate contrary to the Sermon on the Mount. This is the lie the “man of lawlessness” will attempt to deceive us with. It’s also the spirit of the delusion that the enemy wants to foster within people today. The lie that the enemy wants to sow in our hearts is “How do we define righteousness”, and “How are we to operate within righteousness?”
3. The “working of satan” described in (2 Thessalonians 2:9) isn’t exclusively a work in the future. As we observed above, the enemy is at work today – in 2022. Wherever we find his work of deception we must understand that it is a spiritual work – AND it may even be a work that God has purposefully given a people over to (Romans 1:24, 26, 28) in order to shock them back unto Christ. That’s some powerful deceit.
It does us no good to rail against that which is being supernaturally empowered. Prayer will be the only way any soul will break out of “great delusion”. Our singular, sober and steady work is prayer. Prayer, prayer and more prayer. Humble, contrite, repentant, fear-of-the-Lord prayer. There’s plenty to be done after we pray, but nothing even worth discussing “UNTIL” we’ve cultivated the way of much much prayer – within our private schedules and public gatherings.
JSB • August, 2022